The Age Of Recommendation

It should not be any surprise that as consumers we believe each other. We are all in the game of consumerism together and trust opinions from people we believe to be just like ourselves. When you think about it, recommendations are likely what commerce was built right from the very start, so this is really nothing new.

However, what has happened on our watch is that the digital space has given rise of the voice of the individual and the ability for everyone to provide "word-of-mouse" testimonials. We have seen a rapid acceleration in terms of the abundance and availability of this kind of material more so than at any other time in history. As Chris Anderson cites in his book The Long Tail - The New Economics of Culture and Commerce, "the trend watchers at Frog Design, a consultancy, see this as nothing less than an epochal shift":

We are leaving the Information Age and entering the Recommendation age. Today information is ridiculously easy to get; you practically trip over it on the street. Information gathering is no longer the issue - making smart decisions based on the information is now the trick... Recommendations serve as shortcuts through the thicket of information, just as my wine shop owner shortcuts me to obscure French wines to enjoy with pasta."

It makes perfect sense. And, so does the chart below showing that when it comes to CPG consumer product reviews posted on the Internet "virtually all shoppers now find them credible". They are an extremely influential part of the purchase decision - either positively or negatively.

Our opinions, tastes and degrees of satisfaction/dissatisfaction with anything and everything have now become navigation points that rise above any tag line or benefit statement we can muster up. The question marketers need to ask is how they are enabling the recommendation-factor for their brands and generating a collection of positive consumer generated content.

I believe there is no big secret on how to achieve this. It is as simple as creating something, be it a product or experience, that people will want to talk about, recommend and share with others. It all seems to fall into place from there.


  • David Fallarme said

    This makes me wonder how many companies are paying people to pump out paid reviews en masse. That 99% figure is truly astounding and it would not be surprising for some enterprising marketing tactic that takes advantage of consumers' blind trust online.

  • Syed Hasan said

    Michael, as you point out, recommendations have been important to companies for decades and today's recommendations reach a broader audience than ever before. The danger with believing that we are in the "age of recommendation" is companies focusing on recommendations as the start and end of the process, which we are already seeing with NPS programs. I also believe that there is a danger that focusing on recommendations becomes the latest fad for management and companies. The reality is you DO NOT get customer recommendations by coming up with “something that people will want to talk about”. You ONLY get customer recommendations by delivering on your promises to customers consistently. The corporate graveyard is littered with companies that promised great things but never delivered on them. I hope companies realize that customer recommendations is an outcome of great and consistent customer experiences. You only get great and consistent customer experiences by measuring customer experience and variability at every touch point, around every transaction, every day in an effort to improve quality and change behaviors. Bottom line is improve the consistency of what you deliver and the recommendations will follow.

  • Karen Hegmann said

    I agree with Michael in that the challenge to marketers is in creating products or experiences that people will want to talk about. The fact that many consumers turn to online reviews proves that trust is still an important factor when making a purchase decision based on information found in the online space. With respect to creating experiences that people will want to talk about, this can be done effectively through the creative use of storytelling. For a product or brand to be effective, it must resonate in the consumers heart and mind. Storytelling is one way to make this happen. Stories tap into our emotions and allow us to connect with other experiences. Most of us will remember a good story, and if this is used in combination with a quality product, people will be compelled to talk about it and recommend it to others. It can't hurt to use elements used in the entertainment world either. Grey Goose Vodka is cashing in on this idea by partnering with the Sundance channel to offer a series called "Iconoclasts" which features insights into the creative process from key celebrities. The effective use of print advertising combined with online videos for each segment makes a compelling story that engages conversation and encourages trial. To me, the formula works something like this: engagement>conversation>trial>recommendation>purchase decision=positive effect on the bottom-line.

  • Christina said

    "at the digital space has given rise of the voice of the individual and the ability for everyone to provide "word-of-mouse" testimonials" It's very interesting reading this article that was published more than 3 years ago from today. WOM testimonials can now be faciliated by structured programs, which is great for being able track and reward recommendations. I've just published a short blog post on recommendation marketing, which you can find at

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Tags: Digital, This and That, Ecommerce, Customer Experience